Superstitions About the Dead, Dying, Graves & Cemeteries

photo: Katharine Sparrow,

photo: Katharine Sparrow,

Superstitions About The Dying

Sudden deaths, especially ones with delirium, are attributed to witchcraft.

If two people in the same house are sick, and one dies, the other will improve in health.

If a person has a prolonged or painful death, he will haunt the survivors, so all attempts are made to make the passing have as little suffering as possible.

The bed of a gravely ill person should never be placed north and south, and always east and west, with the head toward the west. This will speed the process of dying and reduce suffering.

It was thought that a person could not die on a mattress with feathers of wild fowl, so when someone was dying a slow death, the person would sometimes be carried to a different mattress to ease the suffering.

The last person’s name called by the dying will be the next to follow in death.

You will die if a dying person hits or bites you. In order to prevent your own death, you must hit or bite them back in the same place.

At the beginning of the year, if the first person to die in a community is elderly, the community will suffer from many of the elderly passing.

Superstitions Concerning Death & Mirrors

As soon as death occurs, the mirrors and pictures in the room should be covered or turned where they can’t be looked upon. It is bad luck to let the reflection of the corpse be seen in the mirror. Some people believe it is bad luck to see your own reflection in the mirror until the corpse is taken out of the home.

Some others believe that if mirrors are not covered, they will never be able to be fully cleaned again. A variation on that states that the reflection of the corpse may never leave the mirrors or pictures. A European tradition says that if you look into the mirror before the body is removed, you can see the deceased looking over your shoulder.

Death and Clocks

Clocks were stopped upon the death of a person in a home to show the departed that “time was over” for him or her. If the head of the household dies, it is particularly important to stop the clocks, lest all the other inhabitants of the home die as well. (E) Others believed that once a clock in the house with a dead person ran down, they would never work again. (AA)

Death, Bees & Fruit Trees

When the head of the household dies, one must go out and whisper the news of the death to the bees, or all in the home will meet the same fate. Bees were believed in ages past to be the messengers of the gods, so when informed, bees would take the news to them.

Likewise, if the deceased cared for an orchard or any fruit trees, they must be informed of the passing, or all in the household will decay.

Superstitions About Death and Preparation

As soon as the person is dead and in the clothes in which they are to be buried, a dish of salt should be put on their chest to keep evil spirits off. It is also said to help prevent swelling and putrefaction.

If the body of the deceased is limp for some time after death, another member of the family will soon follow.

None of the family of the dead should help prepare the body for burial, or ill luck will follow.

Coins were often placed over the eyes of the deceased to keep them from coming open. If the eyes of the corpse remained open, he was said to be looking for a “follower”, and another death would soon happen.

Sweeping the home before the corpse is taken out will ensure that the person who does so will be the next to die.

Likewise, removing the bed clothes from the home before the corpse ensures that another member of the family will soon die.

A European belief is that the intestines of the deceased will rumble when the body is touched by his murderer. Also, that blood will flow from the bones when touched by the murderer, regardless of how old the corpse is. Another superstition says that if a corpse’s nose bleeds, it is a sign that the murderer is in the room.

Do not put the clothes of a living person on a corpse. That person will die once the clothes decay.

If you shave with a dead man’s razor, your beard will turn prematurely gray.

Superstitions About Death & Burial

A corpse should leave any home or building feet-first, or else the corpse would be looking back at the building and calling for someone within to follow him in death.

Touching the corpse will ensure that the ghost of the dead will not haunt you. A variation says that touching the corpse on the forehead assures you will not dream of the dead.

Taking a corpse to the cemetery in your own vehicle is extremely bad luck.

The corpse should not pass over any part of the same road twice.

If the funeral procession stops on its way to the cemetery, another death will soon follow.

Counting the cars in a funeral procession is ill advised, as it is said you are simply counting the days until your own death.

Take care that you do not see your reflection in a hearse, or you will be the next to be carried in it.

Going ahead of the funeral procession or passing a funeral procession is very bad luck, and death will soon follow if you do. It used to be believed that carrying a baby in a funeral procession would ensure that it would die before its first birthday.

If a black cat crosses in front of a funeral procession, there will be a death in the family of the deceased within three days.

Some fascinating American superstitions involve the burial of people who have been murdered. Some believed that burying the victim face-down would prevent the murderer from leaving the area in which the victim was buried. Others believed that burying the liver separately from the body would ensure that the murderer would be caught near the place the liver was buried!

Graves and Cemeteries

Graves should be dug east to west. Superstition over time has varied on which direction the head should be laid. Many say the head of the deceased should be laid towards the west. In general, it is so the soul will not be lost at the Resurrection. One reason given for this is so the dead won’t have to turn around when Gabriel blows the trumpet during revelation. Still others believe the head should face the east, as that is the direction of the star that shone at the birth of Jesus.

Graves should never be left open overnight. It will lead to another death. It is ideal to dig and close a grave all on the day of the burial.

If a grave is left open over Sunday, another death will occur before the next Sunday.

The shovels and other tools used to dig a grave used to be left at the grave site for a day or more after the burial, as moving them too soon would bring bad luck (AA).

If the casket slips while it is being lowered into the grave, another death will soon follow.

Leaving the grave before it is filled will welcome another death to follow.

If it rains into the open grave, bad luck will come to a member of the deceased’s family.

Likewise, being the first to leave the cemetery is bad luck and could bring you death. Another similar superstition stated that the sex of the first person to leave the cemetery would be the sex of the next person to die.

Another member of the family will soon die if the earth covering a grave sinks in.

It is bad luck to step over a grave, and bad luck to point at a grave.

Visiting a cemetery after dark will bring you bad luck.

Superstitions About the After Life – Heaven or Hell?

If lightning strikes the house of the dying, the devil has come to claim them.

If a person dies with their mouth and eyes open, they will go to hell.

To dream of a deceased person in an agitated state means that they are in hell. Likewise, to dream of them in a pleasant state means they have gone to Heaven.

If it rains shortly after a person is buried, it means that the person has found eternal rest and happiness. A variation on this superstition says that thunder after a funeral shows the deceased has gone to Heaven.

If a turtle-dove flies upward after a death, the soul of the deceased will go to heaven.

2 thoughts on “Superstitions About the Dead, Dying, Graves & Cemeteries

  1. Pingback: Omens of Death in Folklore & Superstition | Superstition Dictionary

  2. Pingback: Etiquette & superstition: interactions with a dying person | Fancy Notions

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